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Citing 'arbitrary and damaging legislation,' Smith & Wesson to move HQ from Springfield to Tennessee

Updated at 9:45 p.m. 

After nearly 170 years in Springfield, Massachusetts, firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson said it’s moving its headquarters and hundreds of jobs to Tennessee.

As a major reason for the move, the company cited pending legislation in Massachusetts that would essentially extend the state’s ban on assault weapons to manufacturers.

“While we are hopeful that this arbitrary and damaging legislation will be defeated in this session, these products made up over 60% of our revenue last year, and the unfortunate likelihood that such restrictions would be raised again led to a review of the best path forward for Smith & Wesson,” Mark Smith, the company’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

The company said about 1,000 positions will remain in Massachusetts. The Springfield plant will be “reconfigured but will remain operational” – conducting “all forging, machining, metal finishing, and assembly of revolvers.”

Smith & Wesson plans to close facilities in Deep River, Connecticut, as well as Columbia, Missouri. Those employees and some from Springfield – 750 altogether – will see their jobs shift to a new headquarters and factory in Maryville, Tennessee, beginning in 2023.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said 550 of those jobs are leaving his city. While Smith & Wesson’s statement indicates affected employees will be given the option to relocate to Tennessee, Sarno called the news “devastating” to the workers and their families.

“My number one priority will be to assist these employees and their families in any way we possibly can,” Sarno said in a statement. “In addition, we will continue to work with Smith & Wesson to retain the 1,000 remaining jobs here in Springfield. In my discussions with … Smith, he has assured me that their goal is to keep these remaining 1,000 jobs here in Springfield.”

Some Massachusetts lawmakers aren't buying Smith & Wesson's reasoning for moving its headquarters.

House Speaker Ron Mariano released a statement through his spokesperson, Whitney Ferguson.

“Prudent businesspeople don’t make major decisions, especially a decision that puts hundreds of people out of a job, based on one of the thousands of bills filed each session,” Ferguson wrote. “The bill cited by Smith & Wesson remains in committee, has not had a public hearing, and has not been acted on.”

State Rep. Bud Williams of Springfield, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said the proposal – if passed – would not prevent Smith & Wesson from manufacturing the weapons for law enforcement agencies or the military.

“They're saying it's about legislation that was filed in the House,” Williams said. “I think it's more about greed and profit.”

Williams speculates a reason for the move could be employee salaries, as Tennessee has a much lower minimum wage.

“The jobs here pay $13 or $14 [an hour], in Tennessee they pay $7 or $8, so it was a move that we feel was just about the bottom line, which is to make money,” he said.

The move to Tennessee was hailed by that state’s governor, Bill Lee, in a press release.

“Our pro-business reputation, skilled workforce, and commitment to the Second Amendment make Tennessee an ideal location for firearms manufacturing,” Lee said.

A public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Lindsey Tipton, said the state offered Smith & Wesson an economic development grant, with details to be made public in the next month.

“The grant is determined based on a formula that includes the number of net new jobs being created, the [capital expenditures] being made by the company, and the average wages being paid by the company,” she said.

Tipton said the grant agreement includes “various claw back provisions to protect the state in the event the company does not deliver what it has promised.”

Smith & Wesson was incorporated in Springfield in 1852.

Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He oversees a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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